Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is almost everything a Monster Hunter sequel should be: more items, more weapons, more monsters, and more hunting. Add that to exquisite cutscenes, good dialogue and hearty gameplay, and you’ve got yourself one of the best RPGs for the PSP ever. The only thing missing from this winning combination is, ironically, freedom - unless by “freedom,” the developers mean “chained to the nearest power outlet.”
What sets the Monster Hunter series apart from your average Japanese RPG is the action - there’s no turn-based nonsense or stat-leveling stupidity (which we'll admit, we often love) to distract you from pure, unadulterated monster hunting. There isn’t even much of a story to occupy the incredibly short cutscenes. You are a hunter, you’re in a new village. You go forth, you hunt. End of story.
Sounds easy, right? Well, if you’ve never tried the original Monster Hunter on the PS2 or gotten your hands on the Japanese-release-only Monster Hunter G, this game is downright brutal for the first two hours of the learning curve. The control scheme seems awkward, with light taps on the trigger buttons leading to actions (sprinting, etc.) and full presses bringing up menus.
Imagine how frustrating it is to mash on the sprint button while frantically fleeing a huge boar when suddenly, a menu pops up. Long story short, you fail to sprint and the boar tramples you to death. Bottom line: mind your fingers, keep your weapon sheathed when fleeing, and do not have potions on standby in your item bar unless you’ve got a few to spare on wrongly-pressed buttons.
Once you’ve mastered the controls, the game opens up into a fun, free-roving adventure of your own styling. But the real appeal of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is the multiplayer. Using the PSP’s ad hoc wireless, you can party with up to four of your friends to go out any quest in the game, using the map navigation and well-animated gestures system to communicate.
Alas, thanks to battery issues, you and your friends will have to cut your quests short, or all find power outlets within the ad hoc range - which sort of cuts back on the utility of the gestures (why bother when you can shout at your friend across the room in real life?).
A huge problem with previous Monster Hunter games was the long loading times between areas. This throws you off the game’s fast-paced gameplay and makes multiplayer a huge headache. To solve the problem without sacrificing the great graphics, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 has a “background loading system” that cuts load times between areas in half. Alas, it also cuts your battery’s lifespan in half - and the game is a merciless battery-sucking whore even without the option activated.
Technical difficulties aside, it’s a shame that Monster Hunter G never made it to the US, and an even bigger shame that American gamers can’t seem to cash in on multiplayer, unless a game is totally online. This cultural nuance might send Monster Hunter Freedom 2 right under the radar for most RPG fans, but for true Monster Hunters, this is everything you could have hoped for in a PSP version – minus the “portable” part. Keep your fingers crossed for a PS3 follow-up sometime in the near future.